Maya notes that black families in Stamps consider the eighth-grade graduation a great event. When Maya takes her seat in the school auditorium, however, she feels uneasy. The white speaker, Mr. Edward Donleavy, gives a speech about the improvements in the local schools. The white school has received new lab equipment for science classes thanks to his efforts. He also states that he has bragged to many important people that several great college athletes graduated from Maya’s school. Maya feels that he has blemished the joy of the graduation day by insinuating that black children only achieved greatness through sports, not through academics. The members of the eighth-grade class hang their heads in shame. Maya laments the fact that she has no control over her life and wishes that Christopher Columbus never sailed to the New World. After his speech, Donleavy rushes to leave.
Henry Reed’s valedictory speech dispels the dismal atmosphere, but Maya reacts with cynicism and pessimism. Henry continues to speak with strength and clarity, and afterward he turns his back to the audience and addresses the graduating class sitting on the stage. He leads them in “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a song known popularly as the Negro National Anthem. Maya listens to the words for the very first time, drops her cynical attitude, and takes pride in her black community.
Maya develops an excruciating toothache. The nearest black dentist practices twenty-five miles away, so Momma takes Maya to see Dr. Lincoln, a white dentist in town. During the Great Depression, Momma loaned money to many people, including Dr. Lincoln. Now she believes he owes her a favor. When they arrive, Dr. Lincoln states that he does not treat black patients. Momma reminds him that her generous loan saved him before. He reminds her that he repaid the loan, adding that he would rather stick his hand in a dog’s mouth than in Maya’s black mouth. Momma leaves Maya outside and advances into Dr. Lincoln’s office. Maya imagines Momma as a superhero, wielding her powers and forbidding Dr. Lincoln ever to work in Stamps again. In reality, Momma tells Dr. Lincoln that he owes her interest on the loan she previously made to him. He protests, saying that she never asked for interest before, but he pays her the ten dollars, demanding a receipt to seal the deal. Afterward, Momma takes Maya to the black dentist in Texarkana. Talking with Uncle Willie later on, Momma indicates that even though she sinned in making Dr. Lincoln pay interest retroactively, he deserved it.
He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death.See Important Quotations Explained
One day, Bailey returns home from an errand, pale and shaken. He asks what black people did to white people to incite so much hatred. He has just seen a black man’s dead, rotting body pulled from a pond. Grinning at the body, a white man ordered Bailey to help load the man into the wagon and then pretended that he was going to lock Bailey and the other black men in with the dead body. Not long afterward, Momma begins planning a trip to take Bailey and Maya to live in California with their mother.
Momma lives in Los Angeles with Bailey and Maya while Vivian makes living arrangements for her children. Maya and Bailey begin to see Vivian not just as a superhuman beauty but also as a real person with fears and insecurities of her own. Vivian seems concerned with her children’s well-being and even throws them a special party one night at two-thirty in the morning, enchanting Maya with her fun-loving and spontaneous nature.
Although trained as a nurse, Vivian supports herself and her children by running poker games or gambling. Maya notes that even though Vivian exhibits temperamental, melodramatic outbursts, she never compromises fairness. Maya discusses Vivian’s power and her honesty. Once, Maya recalls, Vivian shot one of her partners for verbally insulting her, and afterward, they retained their mutual admiration for each other. After all, Vivian had warned him that she would shoot before pulling the trigger.